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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Too Late to Change Velocity

      The chosen syntax to roll off Colin's tongue, just as we descended Turnbull today, was for us to be careful around corners because some places were still wet and no one wanted to crash.  If this were merely fiction, that might be considered a foreshadow.  I'm just going to cling to the belief that irony's alarm clock rang and we were her first victim of the day.  We all agreed, geared up, and on we went.
     The best parts of any ride are the hair-raising, gravity-defying downhills. Except when it's rained the night before.  Mother Nature was kinder this morning, opposed to late afternoon yesterday when I experienced all four seasons of her in one hour (which will be a narrative of a muchier color for next time), and it was even sunny. That made climbing Colima a little easier because it's always nice when it's sunny there. I warmed up a bit, settled into a rhythm, and just pedaled. You could see patches of wet asphalt where the side of the hills blocked the heat of the sun to dry it off. But ascending those places doesn't have the same warning effect as it does when the world is rushing by at the veriest of mach speed. And one tends to forget that there might still be a hint of 'wet' around the next cusp.
I was behind Mike. John behind me. Colin led the peloton of four. Things were going swimmingly: brakes still grabbed, road cooperated, Mike had a little wobble around one bend but recovered just as I passed.
     The second that I realized I was going too fast, it was too late to change velocity and the next few seconds held so much action and reaction, it made Newton's laws cross their arms in narssicistic gloating fashion and on December 17, 2011-- that shit got real. Colin went down and I'm sure every creature in Turnbull Canyon felt the impact and heard his creative expletives of pain and anguish. I had already set my mind to accept the fact that I was going to be the carbon fiber fodder, but somehow I avoided the aftermath. Mike and John were there to help him in nothing flat. They were looking for broken bones. I was looking for broken spokes and a snapped chain. But aside from his bars sitting slightly askew and the clear coat on his rear derailleur a little grooved from being an object on a slip 'n' slide, his ivory Colnago survived much better than the layers of clothing and skin on various parts of Colin's lycra clad body.
      At first, the adrenaline from the collision absorbed the deeper pain and suffering and we decided to coast downhill to Whittier P.D. for some first-aid. We got as far as Painter and Beverly when it wore off and he started to feel it as though it were sound from a neighbor's garage band growing louder and louder, completely harshinig any of his mellow. He took off his glove to survey the hand that most likely suffered the most damage. Dripping with crimson, the skin between his thumb and forefinger looked as though it had been through a blade in a cheese grator.
      We decided to coast down to the police deptartment.  I'm sure it's what the clerks at the precinct experience every day, four cyclists gracing their front door on a cold Friday of them bleeding. I inquired as to whether they had a first-aid kit and the clerk, obviously a comedian on weekends, answered my inquiry with another inquiry as to whether someone was hurt. Reflecting back on it, I wish I had a snappy comeback, such as, 'No, we're on a scavenger hunt and just need a picture of it.'
      Perhaps it was my dumbfounded expression or maybe it was the blood dripping on the floor, but Sargent Clueless quickly saw that we were a serious bunch and while she was tending to the wounds on our comrade, we did what all cyclists do when another crashes...let our adrenaline surge with the reality of what COULD have happened had he not been wearing a helmet and how resilient some materials are to abrasions. Oh yeah, and took pictures. Let's just say that Colin's noggin will not be donned in the helmet he was wearing today. It was cracked in three places! His torn Velocity jacket and jersey will most likely be the clothing worn by a proud survivor on future club rides, but I can guarantee you it will not change HIS velocity. During the ride, he reached his goal of 600,000 ft. of climbing for the year!  That made the irony of the ride lose a little of its sting.

The Red Broom Chronicle

Who am I to place a lower value on something that belongs to someone else just because it doesn’t appear valuable to me?  And who am I to think it’s not unusual to see a Kindergartner who runs out of a classroom that she wasn't supposed to be in, clutching a bright red broom, screaming my name over the din of the playground, and seeming to collect classmates on her way to see me as though the broom were a magnet? 

Recess had begun relatively serenely.  Over the past few weeks, I’d had the pleasure of twin shadows at recess.  Seriously, twin five year olds that I had learned so much about in very few words and were as content to stand beside me as I was content to have them there.  Some afternoons, we never even exchanged syllables.  Amazing, the presence of other human beings—no matter their age-- and their effect on a bent psyche.  Anyway, my two little shadows had effloresced into four shadows just days before the incident.  Recess began, I ambled onto the asphalt, and they found me.  I always gave them their choice of a place to stand, sort of like a pitcher’s mound.  One of them wanted to face the monkey bars so we could applaud their friends who had made it from one end to the other without slipping into the bog of woodchips below.  The sun was bright and warm as we meandered over and sought refuge in the shade of a tree shedding its bright yellow blossoms on our heads like raindrops in the afternoon breeze. 

Usually, I have an apple and I’d learned to bring extra apple slices to share with my side-kicks.  Listening to their laughter and bits of conversation over the clamor of the other forty-four students, I felt whatever heaviness inside of me growing lighter.  It was simple to be five years old and yet they were discussing the complications of their lives.  Spongebob was no longer on when they wanted to see it, Kevin was too busy these days chasing other girls, and when one of them was little she remembered ‘when the days were really small’.   They nodded and chuckled.  Brought a smile to my face as I ate my apple and drank my Diet Coke that they were already having issues.  Should I have told them to wait until they’d reached second grade before thinking the sky was falling?  Nah, why spit in their cornflakes?  Life was good in the ten minutes that we’d been there: there were no tattling tongues, no complaints that someone wasn't sharing the swings, no time-outs given to ornery little hands throwing wood chips at each other like they were splashing in a swimming pool.  I should have asked myself what was wrong with this picture.  But I didn’t want my cornflakes spoiled either.

I had just eaten the last of my apple when Melanie approached with a red broom that she was holding like a jousting sword, pounding the grass of the playground with her Converse high-tops, drops of sweat trickling down her face, and trying to yell louder than the magnetic posse behind her.  Moments like that are always comical at first.  And then you find out--it’s real. 

Apparently, Christopher's necklace had escaped the confines of his neck, found itself in his hand, and had been lobbed innocently onto the roof.  When the attempts of his friends throwing their necklaces into the air to get it down had failed, they went into democratic mode and appointed Melanie as leader number one to run into the classroom and tell the teacher that she needed the red broom for something.  Step one accomplished.  Step two was to convince the teacher on the playground (that would be me) that what they needed was deserving of the Curious George like circus to commence in the next few minutes.  But they knew that I was the teacher who had already given several warnings in the weeks prior when similar incidents of throwing precious belongings into the air had occurred.  Hoping maybe said teacher wouldn’t bring out the stone tablet where she had etched the many other playground rules and their consequences, this one falling under the category of if precious belongings land innocently on the roof, the victim and perpetrator were shit out of luck.

So, I calmly retorted that if his necklace was on the roof, it would stay on the roof.  Like one of those movie moments where you hear a needle skim across the grooves of a record and all grows quiet before hell breaks loose. Yeah, that's when things got ugly.  Christopher's chin started to tremble.  He gave me a cross-eyed glare over the blue rim of his steamed-up glasses.  Then he announced through a bit of a stammer that basically my answer wasn't acceptable, and he'd just go find someone cooler than me.  That was when I knew why Melanie had been appointed the leader: she added that her teacher had said to tell me to get it down, and she pushed the broom handle into my hand.

Now, had I glanced over to see Isaac escaping the rioting crowd to run to the office without asking, I wouldn't have rolled my eyes and hidden a grin to ask where exactly this necklace was.  Maybe I misunderstood and it was dangling over the ledge waiting for the helpful grasp of a red broom handle to ease it back into its owner's hand and around his little neck where it should have stayed to begin with.  Just as I ambled over with Melanie's posse all explaining at once in which direction to go, Isaac ran into the crowd and announced not to worry and that all was well because he had told the manager and she was bringing her ladder.

Okay, wait.  The manager?  Of a school?  There wasn't enough time to consider that he had left the safety of the playground without my permission, and by doing so had gone to the office with his rescue plan and convinced the office staff to get on their walkie-talkies to alert the custodian of this emergent necklace plight.  I blinked several times while I let his syllables process in my once-relaxed brain before realizing what he was saying.  Surely the custodian would think it commodious to bring her heavy ladder before coming to evaluate the situation first, right?  When he pointed behind me and yelled out that she was there, my stomach suddenly wanted to reject that apple from earlier and I begged my brain not to show me a long orange ladder over her shoulder.  I turned around to see, not just the school custodian, but another adult to help her carry—yep, the very ladder I didn't want to see.  I directed the cheering lollypop guild crowd to stay put while I spoke to her.

The power of words is curious.  Survival of the fittest.  Even at five years old if you can band together to connive, I mean convince several working adults to pay attention to what’s important to you by merely using your vocal chords, there’s nothing in life that’s going to hold you back.  It wasn’t a house on fire, a capsized cruise ship, or a flat tire on the Mars Rover; it was a trinket on a red string.  The cause wasn’t Mother Nature or drug or alcohol related, nor was it because even on a distant planet far far away, there is evidently still foreign object debris that can bring down a gazillion dollar machine roaming on the surface.  Nope, this was a simple, ‘mybad’.

It has a way of knocking you upside the head to think that adults have gone to school for a minimum of thirteen years and yet some of us still don’t know how to use our words to get something done.  Maybe we need to go back to Kindergarten.  Irony is cruel.   

Sunday, June 19, 2011


I have six cats, and the reason I have six cats is that they found me and never left.  Matty was a rescue kitten only a few days old.   Amazing, the lightning speed at which a person can learn things on Google.  Common sense things, really.  Put them in a crate with a heating blanket.  Bottle feed them every two hours.  That wasn’t from Google.  Matty’s soprano despairing cries let me know that one.  Then burp them.  One thing I didn’t know was that the mama cat will lick their nether regions after feeding to stimulate their soon-to-be-learned cat box agility.  Now, I admit as much as I was rooting for this kitten to survive, licking said region was not something on my bucket list.  Nor would it ever be.  Thanks to the older cat already living here, and a bribe of a lifetime of treats on demand, Matty learned just fine.

At first, Matty was, well, unidentifiable as far as what sex he might be.  Even the vet said he was a girl.  So, for months, Matty was Madeline.  Maddy for short.  I admit I showed favoritism.  This was my girl.  However, at the six month check-up, it was determined that Maddy was indeed a boy.  That was further confirmed when he was neutered.  It felt so strange to gaze into the little green eyes behind the black mask and white face, that I’d learned to love as a girl, and admit she was no longer there.  She couldn’t be bridled with any other name.  And I’m not entirely sure if it was because the other cats treated him differently that his mannerisms changed.  Did they mock him when he returned from the vet?  Maybe his twin brother disowned him as though he actually had a transgender alteration.  It happens.  Do they now give him gag gifts of girl clothes on his birthday when no humans are home?  In any case, Matty’s not the same.  He’s kind of inherited a personality that seems to reflect his confusion.  He still appears to have a sleek feminine sachet to his walk.  When he sits, his legs are together - like I was taught but never did - he’s a little too stand-offish and submissive so he hides behind my bed a lot.  It took weeks to gain his trust after that.  This month, he’s three years old and he knows he owns me.  He sleeps at the foot of my bed but on cold nights, tries his best to work his way under the covers.  If it weren’t for the cat hair to deal with, and not wanting it to spawn as an Appalachian scandal that my cat spoons me, I’d have him cozy right up.  Oh, yeah and if he were Johnny Depp, even better.

Sometimes, owning cats and figuring them out is more like playing a daily game of chess and slowly but surely each night I'm down to a rook, a pawn, and one nerve away from a checkmate.   As I’ve said, I identify with Matty in many ways.  It isn’t the big things in life that thrill him.  It’s the small things.  Give him a shoebox and he'll sleep in it till it splits at the seams.  Leave your drawer open just a crack and you'll find everything on the floor in a heartbeat.  Park your bike in his sunbeam and he'll chew on the tire.  Turn your back on a glass filled with water and you'll never know he's been playing in it till that grain of cat litter hits your throat.  Forget to latch the bathroom door and while you're in the shower, he'll hide inside the flood he's created with the new white toilet paper roll.  And Matty isn’t big on meowing, but every morning when he awakens to find me stretching, he saunters over, stretching his own back with each step, sits in front of me, stares at me with those human-like green eyes and gives me a dainty meow.  It could mean anything.  “‘Good morning.”  “Pleeease feed me.”  ”You forgot to empty the catbox and I had to pee behind your bed, but you won't smell it for days.” “By the way, I may or may not have rubbed my ass on your pillow.”  I think if Matty could talk, he’d have a lot to say.  He’s been through some serious crap as a kitten so I try to listen.   Everyone wants to be heard.  My attempts at deciphering each meow may not be perfect but at least I try.  Is he hungry?  Sick?  Did one of the other cats do him wrong and I need to kick some cat ass?  Did I mess up and get the wrong food again?  (You can’t buy just any brand with cute tiny shapes or ‘new’ fish flavor.  You’re not the one eating it, after all.  And the piles of regurgitated food spaced through the house, ironically right where you step or stumble to get your coffee, will drill that memory in tighter than a dry wall screw in a two by four.)  I do want to please him.  Why not, he pleases me.  Even made it to my blog.

I’ve learned Matty needs constant reassurance that he’s appreciated.  Number one rule of owning a cat is never ever ignore them or you'll lose your queen in three moves.  When they come to see you and rub their head against your leg, I don’t care what you’re doing.  Peeing, cooking, eating, watching porn, it’s imperative that you drop everything, make eye contact, rub their backs or heads, and damn it, not stop till they’re satisfied and have walked away.  I’ll be honest, I’ve ignored him once or twice.  Once was when I was at my computer writing, really in the groove of a character sketch, and he nimbly jumped up on my desk and stared at me.  I gave him a corner glance but kept typing.  He rubbed his face on my hand but really, I'd lost a pawn.  I kept typing.  He tried to step between me and the computer screen at a glacial pace, but I looked over and under him to finish what was in my head.  Because, you know, that’s what you gotta do.  Then Matty sat down, his expressionless masked face almost joined with mine.  Affirmation that he was noticed and needed my attention.  Obviously, the reason didn’t hold nearly the importance as what I was doing.  And the fact that my keyboard was there as his ‘chair’ was coincidence.  Or was it?  In trying to get him off my desk somehow the entire passage was highlighted and no amount of expletives or demands could stop the computer from doing what it was asked.  As I said, lost my queen in that game.

I keep reiterating how much I identify with this cat even though he obliterated an entire piece of writing.  There are five others, why this one?  To be honest, I can't put my finger on it.  I think part of it, perhaps, is that behind all the hiding he does, when he gets the courage to come out and meow – his agenda is simple: what shall we play today?  It’s your move.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Pause Trophy

Is Father’s Day a true embraced day for fathers or an adopted day for major companies to prey on the failing wallets of sons and daughters for the sake of making a profit by advertising that you show your appreciation for the man who brought you into the world by giving him a mushy four dollar card and a BBQ grill?  I know for some people, it’s a sad day to flaunt a prized father’s presence when there is no such presence.  When those company profiteers were sitting in their marketing think tanks, jotting down ideas over salads and sushi, did they take that into consideration or did they wax over it like it was nothing.  Pass the imitation crab California rolls and food colored horse radish, I mean, wasabi, please. Gotta make it home before Tip-off. 

Maybe we all fool ourselves and pretend we have great fathers by buying into the saga of Father’s Day and pressuring ourselves into believing we have to give something expensive or something at all just to prove we’re keeping up with the Joneses.  Why can’t there be a Loser Sperm Donor Day or Pompous Prick Day so we can truly say what’s been bottled up inside for years?  I dare a company to veer off the beaten path and develop cards with actual character. 

Cards like: “Dear Dad, thanks for being a loser.  I appreciated sitting in school year after year when everyone else was working their asses off making a card for their beloved fathers and creating poetry with wonderful adjectives that illustrated what they’d learned in life due to their presence.  I was the pitied one who sat at my desk and had to make a stupid card for my uncle or made up a name just so I wouldn’t be the loser fatherless kid that my friends made fun of.  Oh well, so I’m a loser.  Maybe your presence did do something in my life.  Thanks Dad.”  Put a picture of a caricatured kid crying at his desk on the front of the card and give it a matching black envelope and, hey, I’d pay five bucks for that.  Might even purchase one of the little dolls on the table next to the card display that you can burn in effigy.  Make it a faceless doll that you can paint yourself and the deal just keeps getting sweeter.

What about making a section for those kids who were abused and have the cards share a sentiment like, “No words can describe you, Dad.  So, I’ll just leave you bruised and broken.  Does that sound familiar?”  Or, “Hey, Dad, I wonder if you still think about how nice it was to have a daughter that you could teach how to love you like your wife never could.  Does your cell mate nurse the wounds you get from the yard or have you learned to hide them like I did?”  Throw in a free voodoo doll with anatomically correct parts on it or sell a dartboard with a place for his picture on the bullseye and a set of Velcro body parts that you can stick anywhere you want on the dartboard to get extra points along with those cards, and yeah, I’m sold.  I’d even allow free advertising on my Facebook or blog page for the samples.

I keep reiterating in my blogs how irony sucks.  Father’s Day is another reminder of it.  I’m an English major and the apostrophe seems to be a mark of punctuation on which strives many a debate.  Should it come before the ‘S’ to make it personal just for your dad, after the ‘S’ to include every father, or leave it out altogether and treat it like a red-headed step-child, I mean a title, so that no one is offended.  I think you know where I’m headed with this.  It’s the same for most celebrated days: Presidents Day, Veterans Day, Mothers day.  Talk about dysfunctional relationships, invite a handful of English professors together, throw in apostrophe usage for debate, bring popcorn, and you'll want to cover your ears for what might seem like a dueling family that’s on Jerry Springer. 

Now, I’ll defend any mark of punctuation and give you a reason for its unlimited usage on any day of the week it’s requested.  An apostrophe depicts possession.  In my eyes, it works for any word except father.  I would leave it out altogether so that it didn’t mean the father belonged to me.  Just slide that ‘S’ right up against the ‘R’ and castrate the apostrophe in that respected moniker.  Then again, it’s my own bent on irony.  I’ll leave it up to you.